In 2002, San Diego crime rates drop to half of what they were a decade before.
In this year, on the first Friday in February, a man, Damon van Dam, tucks his daughter Danielle into bed. Danielle wears tiny Mickey Mouse earrings. The father never again sees his daughter alive. The following Monday, David Westerfield returns home. He lives in the same neighborhood as the van Dams, and his RV gleams, freshly washed after desert camping. Monday, a jacket is discovered at the dry cleaners. Some of Danielle’s blood now resides outside her seven-year-old body; some of it clings to the jacket, some to the RV.
Weeks later, search volunteers discover Danielle’s partially charred body, everything except a foot.
What follows is a trial like a volcano. Many things erupt from it: media attention, child pornography, an angry son, divested parents, sexual partners, alarms, shouts, tears…viscera. Entomologists testify about the maggots found in Danielle’s head. David Westerfield’s niece testifies that when she was a child, she awoke one night to find him with his finger rubbing her teeth. The ugliest of man’s abject compulsions burst outward. Streams of it run in the city streets, and the details are relayed across the country in news reports. The event sickens and saddens many, our socially inept security guard included.
March 1, 2002, Lincoln Park, a gun battle erupts along Logan Avenue. José Misael Alegria-Uribe and Larson Tufi, teenaged boys, lose their lives that day. Wounded and running, José collapses and dies near the doorway of Dr. J’s liquor store.
January 1, 2003, Lincoln Park, a crowd of New Year’s revelers mills about. A car stops, young men armed with guns disembark the vehicle and open fire, injuring four people and killing two women, Carol Waites and Sharen Burton, in the parking lot of Dr. J’s liquor store.
May 1, 2003, Lincoln Park, schoolchildren find a body in a pool of blood in the back room of Dr. J’s liquor store. The body is that of Eddie Meram, owner of Dr. J’s liquor store.
Our man follows the news as closely as ever. He reads of the innocent dead that lie stricken, shot in the head, chest, and legs. Bullets bite and tear flesh like an inimical creature commanded by wicked boys. Our man reads on. He leaves his maintenance job for full-time security work.
Advance three years. Three years of reading the news, watching action movies, and daydreaming of comic-book heroes. Twice he leaves his father’s house, and twice he returns, swatted back by an unforgiving city. He’s now approaching his 30th year under the same stars that never afforded him superiority or alien abilities. Neither science nor providence has supplied to him magical or technological bracelets, lassos, capes, belts, glasses, superlative strength, or heightened senses. He would be painfully normal if he weren’t so cast down. Still, in spite of his awkwardness, he wonders if he can’t insert himself into the fabric, the porous boundary, between the innocent and the criminal. It’s 2006 now, and already so much time has marched on without him. He wonders if he can change the course of wrongdoing.
To understand our man, we have to understand his influences. Now he searches for an out-of-print comic, The Human Fly. Marvel comics printed 19 issues of The Human Fly from 1977 to 1979. It details the fantastic exploits of a stuntman, and its pages feature photographs of a real, live stuntman in the superhero’s crimson costume. The stuntman of the book is Rick Rojatt. He captured America’s attention and inspired the creation of the eponymous comic-book line, by wing-walking on a DC8 over the Mojave Desert. In real life, he jumps buses on a rocket motorcycle; in the comic, his illustrated avatar battles a campy arch-criminal named Copperhead. The book’s tagline reads: “The Wildest Super-Hero Ever — Because He’s Real!”
This fate swarms our man, our awkward guard. This fate: real-life superhero.
Through his family’s computer he finds a network of others like our guard: the World Superhero Registry at worldsuperheroregistry.com.
He creates a persona known as “the Nag.”
I meet the guard, the hero of this story, at a coffee shop to talk to him.
“Why ‘the Nag’?”
“Because I nagged the criminals, I nagged the cops to do something; I was a thorn in everyone’s side,” he tells me.
“Did you ever patrol as the Nag? Were you ever in any scuffles?”
“No, I just made a MySpace page. Oh, also I called myself the Nag because of the group known as the NAGs in the movie They Still Call Me Bruce. The name was inspired by them.”
Those NAGs were a band of citizen enforcers, modeled after the Guardian Angels, famous from 1980s New York.
The Guardian Angels
In 1979, a McDonald’s night manager formed a group known as the “Magnificent 13” and began patrols of New York City subways. The original group of 13 grew to 48 as newspaper reports rolled out about the group’s protectionism — 48 young men and women in red berets. They stomp the vomit of night trains with heavy combat boots. Time magazine publishes an affectionate and outlandish article detailing an incident in which members of the Magnificent 13 stopped six men from raping a woman, noting that the leader of the Magnificent 13 patrol disabled the shotgun-bearing attacker with a “kung fu kick to the head.”
Numbers of the Magnificent 13 swell beyond the 48, and the group changes its name to the “Guardian Angels.” Now they patrol in waves. Now they openly and brazenly fight fist-to-tooth, knuckle and blood, with criminals and police. Now the McDonald’s night manager, the originating member, receives a beating at the end of a police baton, and the police dump him in a river. Now a Newark City police officer shoots one of the Guardian Angels. Apartment doors, known to hide crack dens, splinter open with a kick from heavy combat boots, and the Guardian Angels beat and menace the drug dealers and junkies inside. Their chemicals are flushed, their pipes smashed and ground under black heels.